Welcome to the Full Force Life podcast, the show where we break down an athlete’s mental thinking, his patterns, his strategies, and help other athletes be the very best they can be by modeling the best of the best in their sport. With that being said, I have a completely different idea, completely different topic to get into with this episode. I brought in two of my very good friends, CSA, College Sports Advocate founder, Cheri Naudin, as well as one of the advocates Erin Sykes. These two lovely women I’ve fallen in love with over the last several months in just what they do for young players, how they help not only in finding the school that’s going to serve them best academically and athletically, but just their huge heart and what they do for these young players in every facet of their lives. Recruiting is just a small portion of it, but so much goes on with helping that player adjust at the college level and be honed, the beautiful, beautiful system that they got going.
They have my full support. That’s why I wanted to bring them in here because over the last several months, I cannot believe how much I’ve learned from them in helping these young athletes to makes these types of decision, these commitments in what are the important criteria for them and what’s going to serve them in the long run. I’ve learned so much and I want to learn even more, so I want to have them come on this show. It’s also going to be a challenge having my first two guests. I was excited about that. I love how this episode turned out. There are so many great takeaways. If you’re a young player needing help in the recruiting process, these are the people that have my full support and definitely reach out to either one of them and get involved with the CSA community. It is unbelievable and it’s growing fast.
With that being said, before I turn it over to the interview, I want to give you the mental tip of the week. It’s been a long time since I’ve talked about positive self-talk. You don’t hear me talk about it too much because in the heat of battle, when you’re in that moment, it’s hard to think positively when things are getting really tough, unless you take the time to train yourself to be that way. The mental part of the game, mental skill is something that can be learned and it can be developed, but to do so it must be practiced. It’s something that you don’t spend a lot of time working on, thinking about, trying to find ways to get better at. When times get tough, when you’re in the batter’s box, you’re out on the field, you’re pitching, whatever it is, whatever sport you play and you find yourself struggling and coaches and parents and what-not, they’re telling you to think positively. If you haven’t trained yourself to do that, it’s not going to happen in the heat of battle. It’s not going to happen in the moment unless the weeks before, every practice that you go to, you are consciously, you are intentionally reaffirming yourself through every pitch, every swing, what it is that you want to happen, how you’re going to focus, how you’re going to do it.
You think about at practice, maybe sometimes you take a round and eight swings are great out of ten. Do you beat yourself up when two of them don’t go right? If you beat yourself up on those two bad swings in practice, when you get in the game and things get hard, it’s going to be like pouring gasoline on it. That fire, it’s going to be even bigger, it’s going to be even hotter, it’s going to be harder to control. What you need to learn to do is if you only make one mistake, if you make two mistakes, trust me I know you’ll make way more than that in practice. Just hypothetically, if you make one or two mistakes in every round in batting practice or every bullpen session, you better be practicing reaffirming yourself with positive self-talk, “This next pitch is going to be better. All I need to do is focus on this.” No more of this “I suck, that was horrible.” Don’t show up after a practice and mom and dad ask you how was your day and you’ll say, “It was okay. It was good.” No, you need to take charge, be intentional and say, “Everything’s great or it’s becoming better.” Find a way to frame it in a more positive manner because that is how you’re training yourself to respond when adversity hits.
Like I always say, how you handle failure is going to ultimately determine the level of success that you achieve. You need to start developing, start practicing. When things don’t go right in practice, when things aren’t 100% perfect, then you reaffirm yourself with positive self-talk because that’s the only way, when you get in the game and adversity hits, the only way you’re going to respond with positive self-talk is if you trained yourself to do it.
With that being said, that’s the tip of the week. I’m excited to bring out Cheri and Erin and let you guys tell all about this amazing opportunity, as well as takeaways. I finally got some great answers. We put Erin on the spot about catchers; what make great catchers, great leaders out on the softball field, and she delivered. I’m excited for you guys to hear that. Without any further ado, I’m going to call them both up to the plate. The three of us will see you guys on the other side.
Listen to the podcast here:
College Sports Advocate founder Cheri Naudin and Erin Sykes
I’m definitely excited for this interview because not only they’re two of my favorite people but it’s the fact I’ve got the challenge of interviewing two guests at once. I’m very excited to have both Cheri and Erin on today. The first question I wanted to just have Cheri explain the backstory of CSA. It’s something that the more I hear about it, the more I fall in love with it. You guys both just have so much support for me just for the amazing things that you guys are doing for the student athletes.
Thank you so much. We appreciate the opportunity to share our story because I do think it’s unique. I hate calling ourselves a recruiting firm because the word advocate really came to me July 13th, 2015. I started the company just on a whim. I got upset about what was going on in the business. I saw a lot of kids getting stuck in portals, coaches not connecting in portals. They don’t sit at their desk and look for a kid. They need somebody with a credible voice and a credible knowledge in the business to actually direct them to the right coach to the right players, the student athletes to actually see them play. Our biggest goal is we want to see them college. It’s not just about signing day or NLI day or sitting in front of the flag with a fancy pin and a picture. It’s really about getting that cap and gown. We stay with them until they graduate college. There’s nobody out there doing what we do and it’s because we honestly believe that it’s not as simple as just getting the commitment, but it’s more elite to actually graduate being a student athlete.
Erin, I wanted to hear your story again about how you came on board with CSA.
I got into coaching after graduating at Ole Miss. Stuck around for about two years until Braxton was born. I knew that raising him and coaching in the SEC probably wasn’t going to work out to my advantage. We moved home to South Georgia. I started working with some kids locally, very much doing what Cheri and I have been doing with CSA; just helping, guide them through the process, explaining things to them. These are kids in our area that are stuck in a hole. They were not well-informed about the recruiting process. I just started sharing my knowledge of what I went through as a player and my knowledge of also being a coach on that backend and just helping these kids find a home. About two years ago, I was connected with Cheri. Her platform and my platform just mesh so well together that I decided to join forces with CSA. I still haven’t changed anything about what I do, I just do it on a much bigger scale now, and it works.
I definitely love the idea of helping them throughout the entire process. I can use some examples of what can pop up, what players might need help with when they get to the college level.
The biggest thing that’s going on is this early recruiting. A lot of the top end, I would call a five-star athlete might get an opportunity to commit in the eighth grade. I don’t know about you but there are not a lot of coaches that you can 100% put the fact on that they’re going to be there through that eight or nine year process. The turnover, the early recruits are more at risk for actually getting a decommit, a coach change. Even some of the ones at the end, signing an NLI during a coach change, what are the effects of that? What’s going to happen to me and my college education? Even when they’re in college, things happen, things like a coach change. My daughter had two batting coaches during her four-year tenure at a school. That’s a lot to address to, but just knowing that they’re on the right path and doing the things they need to do as young adults. A lot is intangible things like keeping them on track as mature, spiritual foundation, moral foundation, the things that really they go through as young adults for those four years.
One of the things I’ve learned most from you guys is in such little similarities between the work that I do and the work that you guys do, always trying to pick your guys’ brain. Can you guys share with everyone, and I’ll ask Erin first, what are some of the important criteria for you picking your college and how do you help these young athletes go through those steps in their own decisions?
When they came to me choosing, I used my experiences travelling. I came up at a time where the most elite softball at that time was being played out West. In order for me to be seen by the best, I had to play out West. That right there was able to help me decide that I didn’t want to go to school in California. I’m not a California kind of kid. By playing out there and being around LA, in those suburbs of LA, I wiped that off the map. As a twelve, thirteen, fourteen-year-old kid, I had told you, I was going to UCLA or Fresno. By the time I was sixteen, seventeen, I don’t want anything to do with that. I was able to decide that I’m much more of a southeastern conference, Atlantic Coast conference kind of kid. The schools that were recruiting me out West, I was able to wipe them off my map. I kept those southern schools that I knew that I had interest in.
From there, I started asking myself questions about what was important to me about the location. What’s important to me about the size of the school? What’s important to me about driving distance from home and can my parents come watch me play? All that to say that I narrowed it down to I knew that I wanted to be somewhere where I could take my car, park my car one time, walk to any class I wanted to get to. I didn’t have to take a shuttle system or a busing system to class. I wanted to be in a small town. That right there limited me in the Southeastern Conference. I was looking at Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, those type schools and then ACC. I ruled it out because those schools seem to be in a little bit bigger city than I really wanted to be in. Now I take that approach and I help my kids understand there’s more to it than the mascot or the coaches. In fact, when I was being pursued by Ole Miss, I had to come home and ask my dad who Ole Miss was. They just weren’t a well-known program to me. By the time I graduated, we were mid-range SEC school.
Cheri, I’d love for you to elaborate on your side and how you see things too but also maybe touch on too the young kids, and I was there too myself, the significance factor of you want to go and play at D1 or one of these major schools. I see the same thing when talking to young kids about when you get drafted. We all want to get drafted really high, but when you go on and play your career, no one ever ask what round you got drafted in. It’s one of those things that when you’re young, you’re growing up, you put all these importance on what type of school. Is it D1? Is it in this conference? Are you drafted in what round? When you’re done and looking back, those aren’t the things that you remember. I know, Cheri you know about this. What are some of those other things that are just really, really important to base a decision on what type of school you go for?
That’s a fantastic question because it’s probably the biggest one that we spend a lot of time talking to families about. The biggest thing is we focus on the next 40 years, not just the next four or eight years. It’s what are they going to become, especially on the female side of athletics. The degree means everything. We don’t really have the high-end Major League baseball draft like you guys do. They’re not chasing that Big League sign in, even though we do have our National Fastpitch Pro which we’re very proud of and hope that it grows. It’s just not the kind of money that MLB has. We focus more on grades, academics, the type of fit. Our best student athlete, we’re so proud of her. She’s playing her third year. She’s a two-time All American in Division III but she came in with high grades. She wants to study something in Medicine. She’s full of spirit. She’s a fantastic kid. We always say when she comes out and goes to med school, they’re never going to ask her what division her All American status was in. They’re going to say, “A student athlete doing pre-med? That’s crazy.” We focus more on that.
If you ask a fourteen or fifteen-year old kid, I love it because you say, “What’s your dream school?” They come out with, “I want to go to this school or that school.” I said, “I wanted to be a fairy princess at Disneyland when I was a kid too.” That’s my famous new line now. It’s not about dream school. Your dreams will come true at the school you actually graduate from. I want to take these parents from this dream school fantasy land and say, “Let’s get real. If they’re eighth graders and they’re in their recruiting process, we can’t be talking about dream schools anymore and fantasy land.” We have to start talking about their education and about what’s really going to happen as adults. A fourteen or fifteen-year-old making a decision for their adulthood, I honestly guide the parents to make that decision. They’re not going to dislike any program that come forward and likes him and presents this great opportunity. Our daughter verballed at Kansas, and when the coach asked her what did she like the best about it when she was a freshman, she giggled and said, “The Jayhawk.” What else would a fourteen or fifteen-year-old like? They’re going to love the mascot. We laugh about it now because that was attractive; this big fancy school with this great high ball over the campus. In the end, we knew Kansas was the right place for our kid and it was the right program for our kid. She played four years, went to two College World Series Regionals and had the time of her life.
It reminds me of the time I was working with a young player. I think she was fifteen and this was before I really got a chance to work with you guys and ask better questions about this stuff. I remember asking her, if she could imagine herself being at college, what would that be like and what would be most important to her. She kept talking about being at football games. I was like, “Do we need to go to a place that’s a great football program? Do they need to be winning?” It’s just funny what at a younger age it’s what we focus on and just helping them shift. I remember being there too. The next topic I wanted to ask you guys was the dangers of social media. We all know the instances with players and shooting themselves in the foot a little bit to say, but what about parents as well?
I used to say, “Kids, watch out. The minute you put your name out there, they’re going to Google you. They’re going to see everything about you for about ten pages on Google.” It’s just about the amount of data for every person. I’m also saying, “Parents, check yours too.” The parents are a big component in this recruiting process now, and the kid might all looked clean and polished. Sometimes the parents, they need to clean up their Facebooks and social medias too because this coach is going to spend $100,000 on average recruiting your kid to go to college, and you’re going to act a fool on social media. I read a book years ago in corporate America called Brand You. It’s about what your brand is and about what you look like out to the public. Especially for CSA, our social media is our storefront. You see everything about Erin, you see everything about Cheri and all of our eighteen other advocates nationwide. That’s who we are and you see it through and through on a daily basis about what we stand for. I think the parents and the kids need to take a double look. It is the number one reason why a kid won’t get recruited, is their social media.
Erin, I want ask you and talking about the positive uses of social media. One of the things I think that started our friendship and was just this amazing post that you’re always writing in a way that does offer advice, it offers help. It’s real practical stuff. Not only in the recruiting stuff or the stuff that goes along with becoming a college level athlete, but the mental side stuff too. One of the things I wanted to ask you is where does it come from? How do you think of this stuff to help me so I can make better posts?
I stay on social media a lot. A lot of it comes from parents’ posts on social media. It triggers me and I think, “Somebody really needs to hit on this.” In a lot of regards, it is a negative post that I have seen that I try to turn and spin in a positive manner.
I would call it a positive rant.
I’m good at those. There’s so much mis-education out there that kids and parents alike, they don’t know what to ask, they don’t know the questions to ask. They go to social media. They use social media as their rant. They’re looking for answers maybe on the wrong places. Maybe they’re looking for answers from people that have been there and done that. I tried to take that approach of, “Been there, done that, let me tell you how I got through it,” kind of stuff.
Can you think of an example off the top of your head in terms of mis-education?
Yeah. We get one really young kid that commits, and now everybody starts freaking out and they don’t realize the backstories to these commitments. This one particular kid has ties regardless. It doesn’t mean that the rest of the 20-23s are ready. That kind of education right there, yes, it’s incredibly early but no, it doesn’t mean that these schools are going out and pursuing hot 20-23s. There are a lot of factors that go into timing, and your timing, not everyone’s timing is the same for recruiting. That’s based off of a thousand other factors there in itself. To answer your question, timing is misunderstood.
What else? You’re on a great, positive rant right now. What’s one more mis-education that comes to mind?
In the past, I would have said that if you wanted to play college softball bad enough, there is a school for you. I don’t necessarily believe that anymore. That’s based off the numbers that we see in the sport.
How so? Was it just because there are so many players?
So many more players, and we’re talking about when I was coming up, I was one of the few in the country that had a private batting instructor that saw a dietician that had a personal trainer. People thought I was nuts. They thought my parents were nuts. Now, these kids are being groomed and shaped for the sport much earlier than in the past. You’ve got millions of kids playing the game now and there just aren’t millions of opportunities out there. The best of the best truly do get those more elite opportunities if they understand the process.
I got a question I want to ask both of you but I’ll ask Cheri first. In the softball world, in such an early age, I know you’re talking about 20-23s something like that, but even ladies that are in they’re fifteen or sixteen, for me that sounds so early, from my own experiences in the baseball world. Where are the areas that you see typically that they need to continue to grow and develop? My biggest fear when I’m working with young players is they commit and then they stop putting in the work. Where are the areas that you’re a college commit but you’re not a college level player yet? Where are those areas they continue to grow and develop?
Number one, they’ve got to focus on mechanics: the hit, catch and throw. I go out there and see a lot of sidearm throwing. I’m an ex-catcher trainer. The minute I see sidearm, I’m thinking Tommy John surgeries in their future or a shoulder injury. The fundamental mechanics; I even had an SEC coach say to me, “If they would play one relevant tournament each month and actually practice three weekends out of the month, it would be better for them.” They’re getting kids in college that catchers are not throwing from their knees, not understanding the first and third situation, not understanding where to throw the ball in the back-pick. They’re really missing the fundamentals, in the pace, in the tempo of the game.
A lot of these College Travel Ball coaches are not teaching them up because they’ve never prepared a kid to play in college at the elite level. The tempo needs to change, the expectations. The amount of work they need to do is actually multiplied. One of the things we focus on in CSA is time management. They don’t have time management skills because their busy moms and dads have been managing their calendars all these years. We have tips and techniques and tools that we use that help define better time management skills. Definitely, they’ve got to work on talent. We’ve also rolled out a new athletes eating program so that they learn to eat properly now because their body is their vehicle to their athleticism and their success in college. Two of my daughters played in the elite level in college and both said if they had learned to eat better, they would have had to work out less and work less hard to get what they needed to get in the end. We learn that in hindsight. We try to share that to our families. Verbal and vanish is a word we talk about a lot in Travel Ball. They verbal at a high program on a high-end team that’s done a lot of work and travelled a lot, then they sit back home and they play on a less challenging team and a less challenging environment. Then they’re not prepared to play against the talent that they’re going to face in college. It’s some big crucial things going on that they need to focus on.
Erin, how about you? What are the areas that they need to continue to grow and develop even after they commit?
Almost definitely what everything Cheri said. I’m big on that mental part of the game. I see kids all the time that have the skill and ability to play at such high levels but they don’t have the mental fortitude to do it. These kids have to understand that going in to that elite college experience they’re going to be held to a much higher standard. Things aren’t going to be easy. Things are going to be tough. You don’t get to clock in and out on your time. It’s not on your time anymore. It is on the program’s time. That’s the biggest conversation that I have with kids, is getting them to understand that you’ve got to be mentally tough. You’ve got to be mentally strong. You’re going to see things, go through things, do things, be a part of things that you’ve not ever been a part of before and it’s going to be tough. You’ve got to be mentally prepared to withstand that.
It reminds me of one of the posts that you wrote recently too. Maybe if you could explain or elaborate on this and just the importance of failure for an athlete and to go through that process?
I was told a long, long time ago to embrace failure and learn from it. I absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, believe that the only way you grow as a person and as a player is to fail. How else are you going to learn? We’re going through things with Braxton right now when he’s learning that failure is not a bad thing. Failure is how we learn and grow through the game.
I know, Erin, I was talking about this before about the importance of catching but I always forget about Cheri when you’re being the catcher instructor. What are some of the important qualities from a leadership standpoint that you love seeing at a catcher?
I love catchers that can call their own games, that can lead the defense and actually not doing it from a mantra that they’ve learned but they do it because they have passion about the sport. I always tell the catcher, “If you’re going to be a great catcher, replace your coach. You don’t want your coach yelling at you then control your defense. Get your work done.” Mechanics for catchers, I see so many catchers with, no offense, knee savers on but they hurt your knee better than help your knee. I see them with narrow stances where they’re not wide enough; they’re not using their body. That level of athleticism, I’m partial still to catchers, but I still think they need to be the best athlete on the field.
Erin, same question. What’s a great catcher do?
First and foremost, they’re getting strikes called for the pitchers. In the same regard, a great catcher is going to hold their pitchers accountable for hitting those spots. That’s a big thing for me. I was not a catcher until I made it to college. I made my way into the bullpen. Pitchers didn’t really want to work out with me because they were going to have to stand in that bullpen a little bit longer. I was going to make sure that we hit our spots and hit them well and hit them consistently. Those are two qualities that I think great catchers have.
Erin, what does a great catcher not do?
A great catcher doesn’t come across to his or her teammates as being what I would call a punk. They have a way of leading their team. The people have total respect for their catchers. They understand how to operate each teammate. Like Cheri said, in that regard, they’ve taken the place of their coach. They understand how each of their teammates responds and they understand how to talk to those teammates. A great catcher doesn’t come across as being a know-it-all or arrogant. They’re just the teammate that you want your leadership out of.
Cheri, I wanted to ask you, being a parent who have come through the recruiting process, all of the stuff that you’ve learned and been through over the last few years in the business, what would you do differently as a parent than you did before?
Trust the people that have been successful in the path before you. Don’t think you have all the answers. Truly don’t gamble your child’s future on your own information. Really look into the Travel Ball coaches that have been there and done that. There are some that have committed over 400 kids in their lifetime. Why wouldn’t you want to listen to people like that and do less listening from the social media forums? We had one kid go through the process and they all have the answers. There’s a lot of misinformation on social media. As a parent, I just would hire professionals that had been there, done it, that show results. Look into people’s records before you commit to a Travel Ball coach or a recruiting service.
Erin, one of the things I really respect and admire about you, maybe it’s because I see a lot of similarities of myself that I see in the world in this athlete’s mindset. I want to ask you, what have been some of the most important lessons that playing softball, playing sports, has taught you about life?
I would say the ability to work and work hard. I think that’s a lost concept. People just don’t understand what it means to truly do a job until its completion. Those are attributes that we throw back in our kids. We don’t hand our kids anything. We work for it, both athletically and in the classroom. Braxton would tell you, “If I come home and my mom is not satisfied with my grades, he’s not going out and playing baseball today.” I find myself teaching that in the house work. Braxton and I had a conversation of you don’t stop until the job is done. You don’t get a break. You stop when the job is done. Those are lessons that I was taught through softball especially at that collegiate rink. I can tell you right now, there are practices and workouts that I have nightmares over where I wanted to stop but I couldn’t because I had three of my teammates I was carrying on my back. If I stopped then they stopped and we all stopped then we were going to have to do it again. Hardwork definitely are those attributes that I try to instill and pass along. Don’t be afraid to work hard. I have never worked hard for something and been let down by my results in the end.
We’re on the same page. I felt like I knew where that answer was heading as soon as I asked the question. Cheri, what is in store for the future of CSA?
We’re so excited. All of these new recruiting rules that are hitting the marketplace, there are so much confusion and chaos going on. CSA has a plan. We develop a unique plan for every kid out there. We are growing nationwide. We’re twenty plus advocates. We’re also interested in other sports. We’ve dabbled in some. We are definitely going to expand. We are just at the brink of a very, very niche, unique model. That model is growing organically of course by referrals and people like yourself respecting what we do and we appreciate that. It really is a relationship. We are clearly a relationship-oriented business and people like that. People need that in this business. We’re dealing with their children.
What are the biggest challenges for the parents today in this process?
I think it’s permissive parenting. The parents are so afraid to lay down a foundation and make their kids accountable and hold their student athletes to a higher level. They want to be a student elite athlete but they don’t want to do these students elite work. It’s okay to be a tough parent. It’s okay to not go out to that party on Friday night and miss that basketball game in your local town, “Coach, I can’t make it. My friend is having a bar mitzvah or a Quinceanera.” It’s okay to be a kid but it’s also okay to do the right things for the right future. My daughters’ friends are student athletes nationally, not necessarily the local town that we grew up with. That’s not really who is like our children. I’ve always said we want our kids to hang out with positive, productive people doing positive productive things.
Whenever I’m interviewing someone, I always try to make it about them and not go too long into my own stories. Some of the things that you said and some of the things that Erin have said, talking about parties on a Friday night, after the football game and stuff like that, I remember going through high school. This goes into the hardwork and how much effort it takes to be really great at something if you want to be a college level athlete just on the athletic side let alone the academic side you’ve got to put into. I used to tell everybody that my mom was really strict and my curfew was either 9:00 or 10:00 PM. What I would do is I’d go hang out at some friends for a little bit. I’d leave way early and I’d go to the high school track and I need to run or I throw a baseball off the wall or I would find ways to maybe not so legally jump fences and break into cages or something like that. Hopefully there’s a statute of limitation if I’m going to put that on the air. I always find ways to get better. I wouldn’t go home until I did something that night. That was my commitment and I think it paid off for me in the long run. There comes a time where if you really want this bad enough, if you want to have the opportunity to play at a college level athletically, get your academics health taken care of, then there is a certain level of commitment you’ve got to go above and beyond. It’s not about what your buddy down the street is doing. It’s what the best and the best in the country are doing and that’s the model you need to follow.
I really appreciate you guys being on here joining me today. Cheri, how can they get in touch with you with CSA?
We are www.CollegeSportsAdvocate.com. You can find us on social media on Facebook and also Twitter and Instagram and even LinkedIn. We are definitely out there on social media. We appreciate the connection, Jason. You are awesome; nothing like having a professional in our midst and somebody who has actually made it. Thank you so much.
I appreciate you and Erin. Thank you so much. I have this feeling somewhere down the road that Braxton and Axel, I feel like they’re both going to be a guest a on the show someday too. Those two men are little beasts in the making. Thank you for taking the time on being on the show too.
Thanks, Jason. We appreciate it.
I hope you enjoyed it. If you have any questions, comments, criticisms or sarcastic remarks for any of us, feel free to reach out at Info@JasonBottsPeakState.com. We will see you next week with another great interview guest, another episode. Until then, aim high, swing hard and smile often.